May and Lilian love to party in only the best bars across 1930s London. Except, their real names are Wilfred and Laurence, respectively. They all had their own camp names, each and every gay... at least all those who became 'sisters' as part of their clique did. Upon these two meeting, they immediately become friends to guide each other through the experiences to come. Knowing that they were unique in their sexuality at the time brought the group together and formed a freedom of lavish nights out that was central to the queer scene for them.
Loosely based on real stories, and with the fictional characters based on true historical accounts, Jude Taylor's Is He Musical? begins with Laurence (played by Barry O’Reilly) turning on a record player, and exploring the basic set to establish the scene. From the outset, the band, who are on stage, are vital to the show, and there is involvement throughout from the musical director and pianist, Francesca Fenech, who is fantastic, and definitely displays a talent for her role; the inclusion of the musicians in the piece as a whole is a nice addition too.
Wilfred, a footman to the wealthy Lord Hemsworth, played by Teddy Hinde, makes a grand entrance with their confident introduction and explaining their non-binary identity in a way that could not be better expressed. This representation, conveyed by a non-binary actor themselves, is perfectly executed by not being a dwelling point for the show, yet still holding adequate importance due to the focus on the LGBTQ+ community, and the little exclusive world that comes with being part of it.
While the storyline lacks, and the staging doesn't have much to it, there are some stand out lines, and the vocals to compliment the fitting tracks for the era are well executed. Songs recall times from their nights out at the Trocadero bar to their attraction and desires when trying to meet someone they like, with each conducted in style- creatively, even a wine bottle was used to keep time for one. Laurence, as a budding performer, often likes to have a turn on the piano, and this is used effectively across the show. Solo conversations are used to fill gaps, but when talking to each other, the dialogue is engaging and often meaningful, particularly about seeking out their identities.
When the unconventional 'Caravan Club' comes about, so does some division, as this new place exclusively for the queer community is seen as a change to their already thriving group, though one where Laurence feels he has found his crowd, as it is liberating, and a place of both love and exciting dangers to him. Later on, near the end of the piece, after both Laurence and Wilfred have reunited after escaping London with their failed love affairs, it is supposed that they are speaking in present-day, reminiscing of the differences to the place as it has become more openly accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, though with minimal alterations on stage, this is a little difficult to tell that it is current. If clearer, it could appear to be a more sincere ending, to showcase the progression that has been made over those years.
Overall, Is He Musical?, directed by Matt Powell, has been cast well, and has the beginnings of a wonderful score; while it may be absent in some areas, it definitely has potential with further development.
Review: Hannah Crouch